Communication as remedy

Story by Samantha Muehleis

The most-publicized circumstance: Michael Jackson, the ‘King of Pop’ dead on June 25, 2009 at the age of 50. The cause: Acute propofol intoxication, a homicidal drug overdose. In his possession: A seven-part cocktail of painkillers and sedatives.

The most recent circumstance: Corey Haim, a childhood star dead on March 10, 2010 at the age of 38. Cause: A suspected drug overdose. In his possession: Supposedly 553 pills – Vicodin, Valium, Xanax, and Soma – that were obtained from seven doctors and seven pharmacies.

But you don’t have to be a Hollywood star or starlet to obtain enough pills to transform your bathroom-wall medicine cabinet into an at-home pharmacy.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel states that in three Wisconsin counties, 149 deaths have been attributed to drug overdose. According to this source, this growing number of overdose deaths, locally and nationally, has led legislature to overwhelmingly approve a bill that aims to curb “doctor shopping” by abusers of prescription drugs.

The bill is intended to deter drug abusers from overdosing or selling pills to other abusers. It is also planned that the bill will discourage doctors from scribbling their initials on countless, substantiated and unsubstantiated, prescriptions. The passing of this bill will foster the creation of a statewide database to track prescriptions that are filled for drugs with “abuse potential.”

In a medically-induced society, it seems to be commonplace to hold a little white sheet with the name of an unnecessarily potent drug just under the line that states our name. Speaking from personal experience, a world-renowned hospital once handed me prescriptions for a bottle of anti-depressants to counter migraines, and on another circumstance a bottle of sedatives to prevent vomiting. Both bottles still lie in my medicine cabinet, unopened. One or two of the red and blue Tylenol was enough to inhibit each of these illnesses.

The doctor’s office has become a drug depot where some ‘patients’ are likely searching for a doctor to hand over a prescription rather than to obtain medical attention. A man who has recently moved to the area disregards the fact that he sees a doctor elsewhere. A woman who complains of abdominal pain doesn’t reveal she has been turned away by another hospital. Rather than it taking hours or even days for a doctor to retrieve these patients’ information, the statewide database will track prescriptions and detect the drug abusers who “doctor shop.”

It is hoped that this statewide database will become a nationwide effort allowing states to communicate with one another. An Associated Press article proposed that a nationwide database may have helped doctors prevent the deaths of Michael Jackson and Corey Haim by exposing previously filled prescriptions.

The bill has raised numerous concerns. First, under this law, doctors and pharmacists are not required to consult the database prior to prescribing or dispensing medications. Seemingly, this defeats the overall purpose this bill is attempting to achieve. If the statewide and nationwide effort is to withhold drugs deemed to have the most potential for abuse, why wouldn’t doctors and pharmacists ensure that these drugs never enter the hands of abusers? It is true that the Wisconsin Legislative Council will require pharmacists and others who dispense prescription medications to record the information and submit it to the state, but without consultation to this information, it seems rather arbitrary.

Second, some may wonder about the cost and effectiveness of this bill. The Journal Sentinel does not address either issue. It is true that a drug abuser will go to any ends to get his or her fix. Is this bill a legitimate way to curb prescription drug abuse? I would say yes, if the database is consulted prior to writing a prescription or counting out pills.

But what about the patients who require this medication for a diagnosed illness, will these patients be tracked? I would assume yes, but, again, if the database is consulted these patients should not encounter bothersome questioning or waiting time.

The good outweighs the bad on this bill. And if you glimpse into the future, this statewide (proposed to be nationwide) database may be the next step to nationally accessible medical records. As a Minnesota resident and student in Wisconsin, all of my records reside on computers in my home state and are inaccessible to any doctor that I may see here. Numerous unforeseen issues arise from this inaccessibility.

If Gov. Jim Doyle does sign the bill into law, the state will be among 41 other states who have taken the initiative to create a database for tracking prescriptions. This bill would allow doctors, pharmacists and law enforcement to hinder and prosecute those who illegally obtain prescription medicines to feed a habit or make a small sum peddling drugs. This could be a step for Wisconsin to directly reduce the number of drug abusers and overdose deaths locally and nationally.

Muehleis is a senior English major and copy editor for The Spectator.